I have often written, going back a few years, that major global resource companies – scared of the usual suspects, the ANC created regulatory environment, labour blackmail, rhetoric, the total absence of security of tenure, blatant theft of mineral rights and the consequent unacceptably low margins and returns and general insecurity – slowly divesting from South Africa. With few major long term projects able to deliver suitable and sustainable returns to justify the risks to these extremely long term investments it would be rather stupid to expect investments and sooner or later South Africa will, for the sake of jobs and development, will have to beg these people to return un terms worse than ever before, conversely they can invite a different entity, China or India, who will most certainly not invest on terms more attractive than that acceptable to current investors.
For my views I was often ridiculed and laughed at but these days, more and more “reputable” and “valued” analysts and commentators advocate the same views in conferences and publications that I have espoused for a while now. Despite this there are still many who refuse to believe.
It is interesting to note that BHP Billiton, the second biggest company by market capitalisation in the world, lagging behind only Exxon Mobile, are sitting on a pile of cash they do not know what to do with. The South African CEO of BHP Billiton, Marius Klopper, a “boertjie” not intimidated by the “Kill the Boer” song, announced that this gigantic company who dictates terms even to the likes of the mighty China, will embark on a five year, USD 80 billion plan, to expand the resource behemoth. To put this into perspective; $ 80 billion are more than the market capitalisation of Anglo American, the fourth biggest resource company in the world. The sad but not unexpected part of the story is that not a penny of the $80 billion, are destined for South Africa where the ANC government promised 140 000 new jobs in the mining sector (an equivalent of ten mines a year at a cost of $ 1 billion each) over the next eight years.
Unfortunately BHP Billiton is not the only resource company taking a dim view on investments in South Africa. World no 2, Rio Tinto, and numberone gold miner, Barrick are avoiding the country like the plague. And whereas Goldfields previously stated that they were reviewing their exposure to their South African assets, their CEO, Nick Holland has now made it very clear that Goldfields will focus on stabilising (accountant speak for sweating the assets or running the asset into the grouns) their gold output from South Africa by milking their main asset, South Deep, a mechanised operation which will not absorb the jobs lost as a result of winding down their other operations, Kloof, Driefontein and Beatrix. Holland also announced that the envisaged Uranium mine, based on the retreatment of uranium bearing gold mine tailings, will not go ahead. Instead Goldfields, having slipped from being the world’s second or third biggest gold producer less than two decades ago, to number six or seven currently, will develop prospects in Mali, Peru, Philippines and of all places, Finland. Astonishingly Goldfields have found it is cheaper to mine gold in a very developed and expensive, over exploited, Scandinavian country than in South Africa with its vast amounts of known resources.
The strategy of Goldfields to stabilise sweat their existing assets to the maximum extends further. It is an open secret for those with the necessary insight that Anglo American is following a similar strategy. They have in past years, flogged their most valuable assets, locked up in Anglo Platinum, to partners in joint ventures and, in doing so, substantially reduced their risk and exposure to the pernickety politicians belonging to the broad church. In their established operations they have minimised their capital expenditure to the barest minimum. They, Anglo, avoided the capital expenditure that would’ve been required to establish the Stylsdrift Mine and when they could no longer avoid or delay spending and in so doing they reduced their risk by passing the property on to Royal Bafokeng Holdings. The existing operations of Anglo Platinum requires a major Vertical Shaft system in their Rustenburg operations – virtually a new mine at a cost upwards of a billion dollars US – to maintain output. Anglo Platinum instead deferred this capital expenditure, choosing to access the cheaper ore requiring very little capital outlay at their opencast mine near Potgieterust; this in a market that is currently undersupplied; a clear indication that any growth plans requiring large fixed investment will be avoided or deferred until such time as sufficient security returns and risk is reduced to acceptable levels.
Despite this, the ANC continues to promise thousands jobs in mining with the disingenuous Ibrahim Patel telling the ill-informed and the great unwashed, that the last year saw the creation of 17000 jobs in the mining industry, perhaps Patel and his friends in the broad church are thinking of jobs along the lines of those at the infamous Aurora Mines of the Zuma – Mandela family where workers haven’t been paid for more than a year. Patel conveniently omitted to mention that jobs in mining shrunk from 500 000 in 2007, to 346 000 in 2008, 296 000 in 2009 and to 303 000 in 2010; a net loss of 200 000 in three years. “The global economic crisis”, many will point out to which the answer; “Wake up, resource prices and demand are back at pre-crisis levels and the resource producing countries, except South Africa naturally, are coining it. We are too busy destroying a good thing.”